By Nick Schneider, Assistant Editor
The ravages of clandestine methamphetamine labs linger for years after they are dismantled in homes, apartments, hotel and motel rooms, if left unabated.
The cooking of meth, no matter what manufacturing method is used, is dangerous and leaves behind a toxic residue that will sicken the occupants — young and old — if not properly cleaned up or decontaminated.
Indiana based company — Crisis Cleaning — specializes in meth lab clean-ups in a five-state area.
Officials say business is going well — a direct by-product of the continuing meth epidemic that is plaguing rural areas across the nation.
A division of English Construction Company, Crisis Cleaning was founded as a sister company in 2001 by company CEO Donetta Held and featured death and crime scene cleaning in its infant years.
The company still handles those kinds of cases, but in 2006, at the urging of sheriffs from throughout the state, the business expanded to do certified meth lab clean-ups.
Today, the company is on-call 24 hours a day for clients in Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky. Business has flourished enough to open satellite offices in Evansville, Fort Wayne, and Lewis Center, Ohio.
Crisis Cleaning receives referrals from county sheriffs, other law enforcement agencies and county health departments for their specialized service focused on meth labs. They are one of about half dozen firms throughout Indiana that do this kind of work.
After a meth bust, everything has to be cleaned, decontaminated or replaced, according to Held.
The company got a real boost when the state of Indiana enacted a law governing the clean-up of illegal drug labs.
“The majority of our work does come from Indiana,” she said. “With Indiana, the law passed in March of 2007 so when police bust a house, the police have to notify the county health department and then the health department sends a letter to the property owner demanding that they clean up the property and have it tested. With the new law, you (a clean-up firm) had to be certified and listed with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).”
Statistics released this week by the Indiana State Police show the number of meth labs seized at an all-time high of 1,437 in 2011, which included 1,363 seized by ISP task forces, including 23 in Greene County.
Statistics provide Held’s company with plenty of prospective customers within the region and throughout the state.
The company, located on State Road 54, about seven miles east of Bloomfield, has five qualified inspectors on staff.
“We get calls every day and every week,” she said.
The company is busy in Vanderburgh County (Evansville) where a state top 116 labs were seized in 2011. In addition, business has been good in the Bedford, Columbus, Kendallville, Fort Wayne, and Elkhart areas.
“Unfortunately it’s such a growing problem everywhere,” Held said. “I was surprised that how many people didn’t realize that with a meth lab they think once the police take the chemicals out of there, that is all that there is to do. They don’t realize that with the cooking, and the manufacturing, or the smoking, what hazard is left in the property for anybody who would move in it.”
Held wrote a book “The Meth Solution” in 2009 and it is a step-by-step guide to methamphetamine decontamination.
“A lot of our business is from rental property, from landlords. The tenant is the one that did the meth lab, but the owners are responsible.”
The clean-up always starts with a recommendation to test the property.
“We test the property so we know how high the (methamphetamine) levels are. We have to test each room individually,” she said in pointing out that the state sets a limit of .50 per microgram per 100 square centimeters.
Wearing full hooded haz-mat suits, gloves and respirators or masks, the company’s inspectors take four test swabs from each room — on the ceiling, the floor and two walls.
The samples are shipped by overnight delivery to a lab that will analyze methamphetamine levels.
Once the lab report is received back, then the property owner is provided with an estimate for decontamination.
Mobile homes present serious problems with decontamination because the cost of the cleaning process may exceed the value of the residence, Held said.
“A lot of times they just scrap them (the mobile homes),” she said.
Held said residue from meth labs is in liquid and particle form that penetrates into the drywall, carpeting and padding.
“Porous items such as carpeting and padding can not be effectively decontaminated so that stuff has to be ripped out,” she stated. “We have successfully decontaminated drywall, cabinets and unfinished wood items. Sometimes we have seen where it goes through the heat system so bad that the furnace has to be torn out. We have had cases where the levels have been low enough that we can decontaminate them if its metal duct. If it is a flex duct, that has to be torn out because it is porous.”
In some cases the decontamination process takes what is called a triple clean to get rid of all of the meth residue.
However, Held’s company uses a product called “Crystal Clean” and it has shown effective results in a single application.
“You can spray it (Crystal Clean) on as a foam and it neutralizes the meth. You leave it on for an hour and rinse it off,” she said.
The price to decontaminate a building or home averages about $2 to $3 a square foot with a typical job costing between $5,000 to $7,000.
“There are some people that even though we could have cleaned it, they don’t want to deal with it or rent it out any more, so they just demolish it,” Held explained. “You have a choice under the law. Either you clean it, you have to decontaminate it, you have to gut the inside down to the (wooden) studs, or your fourth choice is to demolish it and take it (the rubble) to the landfill.”
There is another alternative to hiring a company, like Crisis Cleaning, to do the decontamination work, if they are contracted to do the testing.
“If someone can’t afford to hire a company like us, we are permitted to give them written instructions on how to do it themselves. We try to work with everybody and find an affordable way to deal with a meth property. Plus, we are very successful because insurance is paying particularly for rental property,” she explained.
The company also sells a do-it-yourself meth test kit.
“The only way you know for sure your property is contaminated, and say you are going to buy it or rent some property, is to have it tested. We sell the same kit that our inspectors use to test a property,” Held said. “It’s an affordable way to get your property tested.”